Pet-Friendly Shelters Are Scarce During Tornado Season

No animal lover would want to leave a pet behind, but options are limited when emergency shelters refuse to allow them to enter.

By: h.koppdelaney
By: h.koppdelaney

Spring means tornado season for a large portion of the United States.

A number of tornadoes have torn through the nation’s midsection recently, killing dozens of people and erasing some small towns.

About 68% of American households have at least 1 pet. As storms seemingly become more intense and our pets increasingly are thought of more as part of the family, many pet parents are including their animals in their disaster preparedness plans.

Where Can They Go?

If a family has a storm shelter, basement or cellar at home, taking shelter isn’t a problem. But many people seek safety in public storm shelters in schools, courthouses, community shelters and other buildings — and sometimes their pets are not allowed.

“Pets and sheltering is always a problem,” David Grizzle, emergency management coordinator for the college town of Norman, Oklahoma told the Associated Press. The city closed its shelters to pets last year. “Pets come in, and sometimes they’re hard to control.”

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The results can be deadly for both the humans and pets as disaster managers report that some people then choose to leave the shelter and remain with their pets in their vehicles, which is a very unsafe place to be in a tornado.

Leaving Pets Behind

Mary Benton lives in a mobile home park in Bonner Spring, Kansas, a bedroom community near Kansas City.

The manager at her mobile home park sends reminders that no pets are allowed in the storm shelter, so she leaves her 3-year-old cat, Sherlock, secured in a crate in the safest spot she can find in her home when the sirens start.

“Other people in the community have tried to take their dogs in there and have been refused entry, so they usually have to take the dog back home,” Benton said. “Some then decide to stay at home with the dog, some place their dog in their vehicles and some stake them to nearby poles.”

Wanda Merling, senior manager for disaster response for the Humane Society of the United States, says it’s never a good idea to leave your pet outside. “If it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pet,” she said.

Here’s a video from the 2013 tornado season where a woman’s dog emerged from the rubble as she was talking with a CBS news crew:

Merling concedes it is sometimes a problem getting pets into community and public shelters because they are not required to allow animals.

“I would suggest that people talk to their local officials and talk to people in the community about the issue,” said Merling.

Merling said when talking to local officials, it may help to suggest a separate shelter just for pets or guidelines, such as having dogs leashed or pets contained in crates to be able to come into the shelter.

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Prepare in Advance

In the meantime, it’s important for your safety as well as the safety of your pets that you have a disaster preparedness plan before an emergency happens.

Merling suggests that if you do not have a shelter in your home, or if the local community or public shelter will not allow pets, see if you can make arrangements with friends or family members who have home shelters.

“It may take a little time and research, but it’s important,” said Merling. “Remember to always have identification on your pet or a microchip and a recent photo of you with your pet in case you become separated.”

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